The Metaphysical Conceit Essay

1224 words - 5 pages

“Dull sublunary lovers' love
—Whose soul is sense—cannot admit
Of absence, 'cause it doth remove
The thing which elemented it” (Donne).
It is the very nature of the metaphysical conceit: to remove itself from the world of the tangible yet project an image far more moving than its literal counterpart. It is to go above and beyond the world of the immediate, to transcend the physical and stay bound to its origin, its comparison, while floating in the dreamy ether. The quote featured above serves as an accurate catch-all for what threads compose the complex weave of conceit: purely earthly knowledge, pure reason and sense, cannot understand what, its own, physical body is not present. ...view middle of the document...

To Donne, the love is not dead, nor will it ever die so long as their two hearts pump vital, as their two minds flow to the same frequency of passion; and he would contest that that it never shall. Since their love exists as physically unknowable, existent entirely in divine fiber, Donne uses the metaphysical conceit of a compass to illustrate their bond. The speaker’s observation of the legs, that “if they be two, they are two so as stiff twin compasses are two,” shows that he admits or recognizes the separation, differentiating the pair as the lover (“Thy soul, the fix'd foot”) and himself (the “roam[ing], obliquely run[ning]…other foot”) (Donne). Love connects them more strongly as the speaker compares the actions of an extending compass to the situation which separates them,
And though it in the centre sit,
Yet, when the other far doth roam,
It leans, and hearkens after it,
And grows erect, as that comes home. (Donne).
Though the two lovers find themselves apart, that divine love always makes them feel the strain of the distant other half. The upright integrity of the compass—as well as their love—cannot be whole as they are grow distant and bows and contorts with the strain, though never coming undone at its very crux. As well, passion manifests—dare I say aroused?—in several forms as the apparatus “grows erect” as it “comes home” hinting at the upheaval of desires both sexual and emotional (see: libido) (Donne). Perhaps this line is spoken ironically as, discussed below, the speaker sees no need for the physical aspect of love. Both lovers have literally become one apparatus, one mechanism, though pronged, and can never be separated spiritually.
And yet, sadly, they cannot remain eternally with the other, necessitating departure from one another. Thus begins the metaphysical conceit for which Donne was famous for. The first three stanzas set a scene reminiscent of a funeral with the presence of clergy (“virtuous men”) and “laity” or laymen (Donne). Quiet apparently, they all are lamenting the loss of some beautiful creature—his love to him was real enough for a body of its own or its loss was tragic enough for a funeral to take place—which is taken in varying degrees of severity. The speaker feels great pain for the loss of his relationship considering the circumstances, but respects the “mild” nature of the clergy. As they pass, they do not go to hysterics as the lay men do, rather...

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